Disorders associated with the cardiopulmonary system are commonly experienced by adults. If you are a physical therapist that has an interest in disorders of the heart and the lungs, you should consider working in the specialty of cardiopulmonary physical therapy. You may work in a general practice or a specialty practice while working as this type of physical therapist. The main function of the cardiopulmonary system is to ensure that oxygen is delivered to tissues within the body. This system is critical when it comes to movements. When an individual suffers from a cardiopulmonary issue or issues, it detrimentally impacts their ability to engage in functional activities. As a cardiopulmonary physical therapist, you will help in both the prevention and management of these illnesses.

CardioPulmonary Heartbeat

What is a Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapist?

As a physical therapist that specializes in cardiopulmonary processes, you will place a special focus on the overall physical-based functionality of the body’s cardiopulmonary system. The two main components of this system are the heart and the lungs. This form of physical therapy focuses on education and exercise training sessions. The techniques that you will teach your patients will help them control the symptoms that they experience with their underlying health conditions. This will help in breathing and will aid in the daily activities that they perform.

Which Medical Conditions Would Fall Under the Care of a Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapist?

As a cardiopulmonary physical therapist, you can help patients suffering from a wide range of medical conditions and/or medical treatments. These include – but are not at all limited to – the following:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • COPD
  • Emphysema
  • Lung Cancer
  • Lung Transplants
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Thoracic Cage Abnormalities
  • Thoracotomy

A Brief History

In the year of 1976 a man by the name of Scott Irwin officially introduced the concept of cardiopulmonary physical therapy in a meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. By 1979, a publication for the cardiopulmonary clinical competency for physical therapists was released. In 1985, the first examination for the clinical specialty was released by the ABPTS. By 1987, the patient care specialty was approved by the ABPTS. By the year of 2007, the publication called Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy was released. Since that time, more and more physical therapists have elected to practice within the field of cardiopulmonary physical therapy. Today, cardiopulmonary physical therapists work in a wide range of settings including clinics, hospitals, and home health care.

Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Specialist

When working as a cardiopulmonary physical therapist, you may specialize in cardiovascular rehabilitation. This will not change that which your patients have been through, but it does have the ability to improve their future heart health. This specialty helps those with heart conditions and disease. It can reduce the possibility of the individuals from having cardiovascular episodes. It aids in improving the general health. Examples of activities that you may engage in with patients include -but are not limited to -the following:

  • Ambulation
  • Rate of Perceived Exertion
  • Exercises to Optimization Health
  • Mobilization Exercises
  • Strength Training
Trainer working Cardio

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Specialist

In addition to cardiovascular rehabilitation, you may also elect to participate in pulmonary rehabilitation as a cardiopulmonary physical therapist. In this specialty, you will help patients experience an increased awareness of their lungs and the role that they play in terms of performing various activities.

You will also assist in improving the overall functionality of the pulmonary system. In most instances, you will work closely with patients that have pulmonary-based diseases. The most common of these is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or “COPD”. You may find yourself engaging in the following ways with patients:

  • Providing Counseling on Nutrition
  • Providing Education about the Pulmonary Condition in which They Suffer
  • Helping Patients Learn Breathing Strategies
  • Teaching Techniques That Help Patients Conserve Energy
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Psychological or Mental Health Counseling
  • Training Through Exercising

Becoming Certified as a Cardiopulmonary Certified Specialist

If you want to become certified in cardiopulmonary physical therapy, it is now possible. You will simply need to pass a special certification examination in order to earn the title. The minimum criteria are as follows:

  • You must currently hold a permanent or an unrestricted physical therapy license for practicing.
  • You will be required to pay a special application review fee and fees associated with the examination.
  • You should have the Advanced Cardiac Life Support Certification that is provided by the American Heart Association.
  • You must submit evidence that you have participated in a clinical data project related to cardiopulmonary area within the past decade.
  • If you cannot submit the above, you may submit a case report that displays the fact that you have participated in cardiopulmonary physical therapy on a patient that was worked with in the past 3 years or less.
  • You must show that you have worked in direct patient care by either having 2,000 hours of direct care experience or completed an APTA accredited cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical residency within the past decade.
  • You must sit in on an examination and pass it on the advanced knowledge and skills that are required for the specialty area.

Fee Schedule

Currently, the fee schedule is as follows:

  1. For individuals that are members of the APTA, the application review fee is $525 and the examination fee is $810, for a total of $1,335.
  2. For physical therapists that are not members of the APTA, the application review fee is $870 and the examination fee is a total of $1,535, which is a grand total of $2,405.
  • There is an option for a partial payment available. If interested, you must inquire ahead of time. Prior approval is not being required of those electing to take the examination. Your application must be submitted through the abpts.org website that is currently available.

Basic Information Included on Examination

All of the questions that are presented on the examination on those wishing to become certified as a cardiopulmonary physical therapist relate to the various competencies that are included in the book called, Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy: Description of Specialty Practice (DSP). There are case histories and associated multiple choice questions. The following outlines some of the main topics outlined within the examination:

  1. Professional Behaviors and Activities
  2. The Consultation Process
  3. Practice Using Evidence-Based Treatments
  4. History
  5. Systems Review
  6. Tests and the Associated Measurements
  7. Evaluations
  8. Interventions
  9. Foundation Science
  10. Clinical Science
  11. Behavioral Science
Cardio Workout on Bike

Direct Patient Care Requirements

In order to become certified in cardiopulmonary physical therapy, you must meet the patient care requirements. Examples are varied. Any activity that you have engaged in as a physical therapist that has a direct overall influence on the care of a patient/client constitutes as direct patient care. It does not matter if you were paid for the care or if you acted pro bono. The following outlines a few examples:

  1. The time that you have spent in reviewing a patient’s medical records and the time that it took you to prepare the physical therapy program for that patient.
  2. The time you have spent educating a patient’s family on how to help or how to properly care for the patient, in terms of home health care and/or a home exercise program.
  3. The time that you have dedicated to treating athletes in acute care and/or the official management of their injuries.

Advance Your Career Today

Cardiopulmonary physical therapy is a rapidly growing field that is in constant need of new specialists. If you have an interest in advancing your physical therapy career, this is the way to go! For more information and/or to gather tools, resources, and to network with other like-minded professionals, join the Colorado Physical Therapy Network today!

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